2018 Team

2018 Team
2018 Team in the original church built for Suyapa

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We Can't Help Everybody, But We Can Help Alex, Daisi, and Cara

What a great day! The missioners spent their morning “decorating” their houses with wooden tables, shelves, storage containers, window flower boxes – all created by them with the wood left over from the houses. They also used markers to color shelves or bunk beds. It was fun to see their creativity, and it added a little uniqueness to the house.

Linda and I worked on some of the inventory here at the compound. We also began to prep the black duffle bags for our return to the States. The men did the tools inventory later in the day, and then packed everything up so it’s all ready for next year.

A couple missioners visited classrooms in the afternoon to distribute headbands, rosaries, gum, and candy. After being mobbed by a whole class, they learned it is a good idea to wait for a teacher to be in the room before doing things like that. The afternoon distribution was quite organized and pleasant.

At 2 p.m. we all returned to the houses and waited for the Hondurans to arrive for our ceremony. Before they did, though, the groceries, chairs, trash can, broom, clothing, shoes, etc., were set up on the tables and beds. The bunk beds were also put into place, but they will have to come to school tomorrow to get the mattresses. We still need them tonight.

Fr. Matt began the Blessing Ceremony with a prayer and a reading from the Bible. Marta read the house contract, which the adults signed, signifying they are the rightful owners of the property. We gave each family a small photo album of the building process, a team t-shirt, and the keys to the front door. We truly enjoyed their faces as they walked through their new homes, amazed at every little thing. The home owners chose where to place the crosses that Chris made, a nail was pounded into the wall, and Chris hung his crosses in each home. Fr. Matt, using holy water that he carried in a small screw container, and using the end of a tree branch, blessed the houses and crosses.

Hugs abounded, and I even saw plenty of tears. All home owners kept expressing their gratitude to both God and the missioners, especially Alex, who worked alongside the missioners the whole time.

Upon our return we each enjoyed a small bag of chips and a Coke in a bag. I think you have to be part Honduran, or a missioner in Honduras, to totally enjoy that.

Before supper we celebrated our last Mass in Honduras. It was a nice way to complete a house blessing ceremony and to kind of wrap up our mission trip.

We enjoyed enchiladas for supper again tonight. Those are a missioner favorite. We’re going to go into fruit deprivation when we get back to Iowa. We’ve had fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, and pineapple at every meal.

Junta was a little more solemn than usual, as many missioners were feeling the pain of saying good-bye to their newfound friends. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to be able to pry their hugs apart to get them on the bus, but I’ll do my best, parents. This will be my final blog. We look forward to seeing you at the airport!

Please take time to also read the letter that Seivert sent to the missioners, which I read at the end of our final junta. It is a beautiful message to the missioners, and several of us had difficulty holding back the tears. As you read it, put yourselves into our places, having just wrapped up an extremely successful mission trip.

A Humble Beginning, Humility Throughout, Love Forever, and a New Me

We fear the word poverty because to face it is to make us believe that we are guilty of its existence

It is time for confession from this writer to you and by extension to all who might read this. Like many people, I grew up with very little compared to most of my friends and school mates – sort of a humble early life – devoted mostly to learning and sports and just getting by, probably like many of you - but with a ‘saint’ of a mother and the wonderful guidance and discipline of good teachers and religious leaders, Sisters and Priests alike, again like many of you. As I grew older, got an education and was paid $6,400 for my first year of teaching in a public school in Iowa I thought to myself, ‘my goodness,’ how can I ever spend this much money. I began to think of the wonderful things of life that so many others had and seemed to enjoy - I thought to myself how I too wanted those same things and how pleased I would be with myself when I achieved some of that same level. Then I came to Gehlen and my world was upended in wonder and amazement at life without so many things as I watched the humble ‘Franciscan’ and ‘Living Word Sisters’ that taught in our school along with the comparable and amazing diocesan priests that I was so lucky to get to know - and I began to think how truly rich I was becoming in so many ways that society would never see and in most cases wouldn’t care about -  but for me a growing and continuing humility in all that was around me - the influences of a person’s life and how they form who we might become and my thanks to all of them.

So I ask all you young people tonight, what about those influences and beginnings in your lives? Is this one of them? Here you are, in Honduras, the second poorest country in this hemisphere, and for the past ten days you have been living with those children and families in poverty and the question begs, will they have any influence on your lives? – by flight time, they are only about six and a half hours from Omaha  – an almost unbelievable fact that somehow escapes the attention of most in so called, OUR WORLD – six and a half hours.   As all of you undoubtedly know and most of the time feel, facts and statistics are sometimes boring and tedious but sometimes quite revealing in their simplicity, meaning, influence, and truth and I think such is the case here. Honduras is a country of roughly 8.3 million people – about the same size as New York City - and sixty nine percent of Hondurans live on less than $2 per day, and of those, 50% live on less than $1 per day – a good statement to say would be that the average Honduran lives on less than $1.85 per day. A dollar eighty five – oh my goodness. Another part of my confession: I got up this morning at my usual time, went to the truck stop, purchased a Sioux City Journal for $2 (I have to pay 50 cents more to have it delivered to the truck stop), my coffee was free, and then I bought a pack of those little Debbie Donuts (the chocolate kind) for 99 cents. Within 1 minute in the truck stop I had already spent $1.14 more than the average Honduran will live on today, the day you are in right now, and then again tomorrow the same, and each day thereafter – a very sobering thought. And yet another part of my confession – simple things like that make me think about those things I have in life and so readily and habitually take for granted. I sometimes ask myself, do I really care enough, do I really do enough, do I really love others enough, and most of the time the answer is - I am not sure.  

Thus, I suspect on this, your last night in Nueva Capital and Honduras, you have many similar thoughts running through your mind and tugging at your heart - I can already sense it in the words you have written how you are not ready to leave such a beautiful people – such amazing and wonderful children who live less than six and a half hours from you by flight and yet how different their lives are – how little they have in comparison to us. How is this possible, some of you might wonder? – Why are things this way, some of you might ask?  Quite honestly I don’t have the answer to questions like that but I do think this is what the challenge becomes in your young life – how you deal with this new found knowledge upon our return home, to your school, and to your  friends. How do you deal with these new feelings about others in a place you may never go to again. What do you do with this new memory, this new information? What has this all been about?  Has this journey been about you – has it been about them – has it been about those beautiful little Honduran children you have encountered and want to bring back home? In Chaper One, Part III, of Evangelii Gaudium, ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ Pope Francis wrote a little about St. Thomas Aquinus – one of my favorite Saints. He wrote that St. Thomas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own ‘hierarchy,’ in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them. What comes above all else is “faith working through love.” Let me repeat that, “faith working through love.” He wrote “works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the spirit.” Maybe that is what is meant by ‘preach the gospel every day, use words if necessary.’

Do you see yourself like that tonight as you sit in this your last Junta? – the works of love directed to one’s neighbor?, the houses you have built?, the bunk beds erected?, the gift bags delivered?, the hugs you have accepted and given in return to those wee little ones?, the feelings you have? the hope you have given to others?, the questions you have in your hearts?, and now the tears you are about to shed on this your last night? Do you see yourself like that tonight???  DO YOU? One of those boring facts from experience, “you probably won’t sleep much tonight in spite of all your chaperones suggesting you should.” ? Quite honestly, I get it.

I really don’t know if others see you like that, the external manifestation of the interior grace of the spirit, but I certainly do tonight. Quite honestly, it was Mrs. Nussbaum who suggested to me sometime after we started this program 17 years ago that we add something to the name ‘Gehlen Catholic Mission Honduras.’ She suggested we add, ‘Changing Lives.’ How perfectly clear this program’s mission became with that addition – but then I got to thinking, whose lives did she mean? Did she mean your lives? Or did she mean the lives of those you went to serve? Isn’t it amazing though – you and only you get to decide that – sort of a new you, a new me, a new us, and maybe a new beginning for the people of Honduras.  

At this time if we were in one of my classes at Gehlen you would say to me, ‘but Seivert, wait up a second here, we have no power, we are just 17 and 18 years old, no one really listens to us.’ Well, I would say the opposite. I would say, ‘there is great, great power in the young of today (look at the high school students in Florida), your thoughts, your voices, and especially your actions.’  Mrs. Bickford and I probably would not have been teachers if we thought otherwise – and how very fortunate we both have been in our lives – thanks to young people just like you.

When you return home please share your story and don’t stop until change has occurred – it begins with you and it begins right now. God has given you this wonderful opportunity to grow, reflect, and change – and you have already made a difference. Don’t be afraid what others might say. Think about this for a second, You have held poverty in your hands, you have looked at it in their eyes and seen it on their faces, you have felt it in their lives, and you have communicated with it when talking to and hugging those children of Santa Teresa. The rest is up to you. Be the change that you can be.
And by the way, you are not guilty of poverty’s existence – guilty only when we do nothing about it.

God Bless You, God Bless Honduras, and God Bless the Poor of this World
A Humble Servant – R. Seivert    

Distributing candy and headbands

Decorating houses

A trio of houses

Marta reads the house contract to all

Fr. Matt blesses the houses

Chris hangs one of his crosses 
Entering her home for the first time

Alex and his wife sign their contract

Alex hangs the cross in his house

Group photo of all workers and home owners

Enjoying a Coca en la Bolsa - Coke in a bag

Houses from the front

Pat attaches a rain gutter


Working together to create items for the homes

Building items for the homes

Fr. Matt and Matyas take a little break in the shade

Busily decorating

Final ride in the military transport truck
The backyard view

The girls gave a dancing lesson on our first day at Santa Teresa School. I thought it would be a fun way to end the blog. Enjoy the dancing and check out how much fun they are all having! I have a feeling there won't be much dancing going on tomorrow, as we say our final farewells.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Are We Caught Up Yet?

It is already 10 PM as I start writing today’s blog, which means it’s 11 at home. I hope no one is waiting up for it. With all the chaos of today, I am enjoying the quiet in our room. Everyone else is in bed for the night, including my roommates, who have their ear plugs inserted and eye covers on so my light doesn’t bother them.

Why chaotic, you ask? Well, I’ll try to explain as best I can. One group of missioners went to the house site. They worked on trimming the doors, installing the door hardware, painting the doors, installing the wiring and the various things that go with that – light switches, outlets, and more. It took all of the day for them to finish.

Another crew stayed on the grounds. Tom had to finish setting up one of the vertical gardens so that the students are able to plant and maintain it. Once he finished that, he joined Dave’s crew, building the rest of the picnic tables and bunk beds. Except for the time to play with the children during recess, they worked on that most of this day.

One group took off with Juan and me to deliver the final batch of gift bags. Today was the first day that we saw a house with a dirt floor. Eight people lived in that house. The children loved taking the items out of the gift bag.

When we returned to the compound, our student missioners joined either the bunk bed crew or headed into the library to begin fitting the pillow case dresses (most of which were made by Sr. Juanita) onto the little girls who were led to the library. That made the hallway outside the library noisy and congested, since only 12 girls were allowed inside at a time, while the others had to wait outside. As soon as they finished giving away the dresses, they began fitting on “The Shoe That Grows,” donated by Joan & Mike Driscoll, to the students sent in by the principal. The girls struggled to make sure that every student who received shoes understood how to adjust them and also made sure the shoes fit properly before the children left.

Linda, Julio, and I picked up Frank in Tegucigalpa and headed to a Wal-Mart in order to purchase the groceries and supplies (donated by the Brad Dirksen family) for the three families who will receive the homes. Julio knew all the types of items that are needed to make meals in a Honduran home – rice, beans, tortilla flour, as well as items that we take for granted that they may not have – trash can, broom, and dust pan.
In between all of that, there were various things that had to be taken care of – too numerous to mention. Before we realized it, supper was ready to be served, and it was delicious, as usual.

Since many of our group have mentioned being fairly tired today, we decided to send them to bed a bit earlier than normal and to let them sleep until 6:30 instead of 6. We need to make sure everyone returns home healthy. We just are not used to the dust, climate, always having lots of people around, crowing roosters who can’t tell time, horns blasting, different environment, well, you get the picture.

I, also, would like to crawl into bed soon, so I’m wrapping it up. My final blog will be sometime tomorrow. I hope to blog partway through the day and then add a little more at the end. In order to do that, no missioners will be writing messages on our final night so I won’t need to stay up late to do the blog. Buenos noches.

Children excitedly removed items from a gift bag

Gift bag crew with famiily

Working on the last bunks

Tom works with a Honduran friend

Krista helps a little girl try on her pillow case dress

Beautiful girls wearing their beautiful new dresses

Some of the girls show off their new dresses

47 pairs of shoes were given away

Making sure it's a perfect fit

Students show off their "Shoes That Grow"

Carlos & his wife drove from San Pedro Sula to spend the day with Dave

Working on the bunk bed ladder while sitting on our picnic tables

Working on the team mural

Even though tired, missioners are ready to give rides

The guys are ready to eat

Under observation while working on a project

Food & supplies for 3 families

Doing a bunk bed demo for recipients

Working on the door trim 

Watching the action at the entrance to the compound

Fitting the "Shoe That Grows"

Taking a break

Delanee Nilles - Hello everyone! I want to let you know that this trip is more than I could have ever expected. I love it here, and I’m sorry Derek, but I might never come home. I miss you, Mom, Dad, Derek, Grandma and Noah! But more than anything, I MISS LILY!!!!!Mom- I wanted to let you know that I am eating everything given to me. The food here is amazing! I love hearing from you on the blog. I also wanted to let you know that I may or may not be bringing three more siblings home with me (lol). I now have a sister named Kimberly and another sister named Lexi, and also a new brother named Nelson! I love you all and am very happy you are keeping up with all my work here! Thank you all for the thoughts and prayers! (also s/o Xavier, the best streak keeper and another s/o to English 4 and Accounting I - miss you all!!)

Kayla Mayer - Mom and Dad, I would say keep me updated on how my bracket is doing, but I already know that it’s busted. L I love and miss you both. Hug Kylee for me, even though she’s completely abandoned me at bed time. Also, don’t worry. I haven’t gotten sunburned, am staying hydrated, and eating everything I’m given (which shouldn’t be surprising). Sara, thanks for keeping my streaks. Glad to know they’re doing okay. Love you and can’t wait to fill you in when I get back. Katelyn, thanks for filling us in on track and giving us the good news about the Snickers. Tell my hurdle girls hi and that I’m excited to get back on the track with you guys. Everyone, I love and miss you and am excited to see what the rest of the trip has in store!

Kathryn Ripley - Hello all! I am really loving it here in Honduras and experiencing so many new things. I can’t wait to come back and tell stories. Mom and Dad, I miss you guys a lot! I love hearing from you every day. I just want to let you know that I did hammer my finger, but it’s all good! I’m fine! To all my sisters, I really want to hear from you all. I’m missing you guys a little extra now. Kara, hi and say hello to Julius and Alex. Katrina, say hi to Peter and your Clinician Nexus team (free advertising lol J). And Kaleigh, how did I know that you’d become the boss of the house when I’m gone…. ;) I love you all and miss you!

Jordan and Steve Larson - HOLA!!! Sorry I had to, we, I mean, I have been speaking a lot of Spanish and had to start it off that way. I am having a blast here in Honduras and am not ready to come home. Mom- Yes I can work without my phone. I do not need it all the time. I hope the girls are not giving you too much trouble. Dad says he loves you, but he is a little busy right now so I am passing along his message. Kevin and Lynn- Thank you for the messages. They mean a lot to Dad and me while we listen to them during our junta meetings. I hope everything is good for you guys up there. Uncle Kevin, I cannot wait to exchange stories with you when we get home. I am super excited to hear about your hiking trip!!! Dad is having a blast and is actually doing work…for once lol. I know you two like to joke around with each other about that all of the time. Thank you all for your prayers!! They are greatly appreciated! Dad and I are having so much fun and have so many stories for all of you when we return. We love you all and cannot wait to see you once we return!!

Rebecca Johnson- Hi everyone! I miss you all so much, but I’m having fun. I’m doing well, and I’m sure Mom will be proud because I haven’t gotten burnt yet. I hope Beau is enjoying his week without me, and Brittany is keeping my streaks! I really hope Ethan is doing okay. I wish I could’ve watched his concert. I miss that kid so much! Hi Wyatt! I miss you too, and I can’t wait to see you and Britt in the play. I have so many stories to tell you all! I love you all, tootles!

Caden Kneip – Hi everyone! It’s amazing here; the kids are the best. Alec, thanks for all the sports updates. They’re very appreciated by me, but everyone else complains. So keep them coming! Bryan, don’t break that record without me there. You’re going to need my encouragement. Hope everything is going well at home. Miss you all and can’t wait to be back home. 

Carlyn Bretey- Hello everyone! Thanks for all the thoughts, prayers, and birthday wishes! Having my birthday in Honduras was such a blessing, complete with cake and a piñata for those whose birthdays happen while we’re down here! I miss everyone back home. This experience has been so amazing. There are a few kids that I absolutely cannot imagine parting with in just two days. The food has been mostly good, Mom, but you don’t need to worry too much. This morning we had hot ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo for breakfast. Hopefully, Jackson isn’t tearing up too much land. I’ll see ya soon!

Jared - Hey everyone, Just thought I would finally blog and let everyone know I am doing great. The food is fantastic, and I hope the fridge is stocked for when I get home. Every day we wake up to Juan’s megaphone, which is a lot different than your little wake up song, Mom. The best part about this trip is the wonderful kids. Every day when we walk outside the kids give us many hugs, which is great. Also I have been drinking plenty of water, Mom. (Don’t worry) Dad, I am ready to see you and tell stories about my trip. There are many. Josie, I have been missing you, and I’m ready to get back and see you as well as everyone else. Finally, I’d like to say thanks to everyone that supported me and made it possible for me to go on this trip. It is way more than what I expected, and I am forever changed because of it. I will see you all soon, and I can’t wait. Love, Jared
P.S. Mom I would like some pizza for the ride home from the airport. Any kind you get will be great. :)  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rest & Relaxation

Today we had a well-deserved day off. It still started at 6 AM with breakfast at 6:30, but no work was required or expected. We boarded the bus for the Basilica de Suyapa at 7:30, and shortly after arriving we toured the original church that was built for Suyapa. Approximately 3/4ths of the missioners lit candles for family members who have passed away; then posed for a photo in front of the altar. Marta let us through some of the makeshift marketplace that would be the parking lot of the church so the students could see the religious items sold. We also had a chance to see the unique items that they were selling out of the food “tents.”

We climbed back up the hill and entered the new church. It is gigantic and ornate – like the altar and windows, and yet part of it is simple – like the wooden pews. The priest welcomed our group before Mass began, telling everyone what we were doing, and we received a round of applause. Mass progressed somewhat like ours, except that it was in Spanish, of course. There was a lot more activity during the service. People were constantly moving around, heading into confession all during Mass. My favorite part is always at the sign of peace. All the little kids run to the front of church, the priest comes around the altar, and then every child gives the priest a hug of peace. He hugs every single child, also. Then, all smiles, they run back down aisle. Since the church is very large, it takes a bit of time to get that done.

Next up, we traveled to Santa Lucia to what I call “the oasis.” The buses dropped us off at the 500-year-old church so we could take a quick tour and photos. The streets are too narrow and curvy for a bus to travel from there; thus, we walked the remainder of the way. Missioners who wanted could change into shorts. Some hiked the trails. Many sat around in the shade and coolness. Marta served delicious chicken sandwiches picnic style. Then we celebrated the 5 birthdays, Linda, Mason, Carlyn, Dave, and Jordan V., a new record for birthdays while on a mission trip. After we sang “Happy Birthday,” we each enjoyed a piece of chocolate cake. YUM! Honduran birthdays require a piñata, and we’re trying to live Honduran style right now. Each birthday person was blindfolded, given a broomstick handle, spun around 5 times, and given a chance to break it open. It took a few extra swings until all the candy and MONEY fell out. No one moved much until they were told that money was mixed in with the candy. That made them a bit more interested.

Not soon enough for Abbie, we headed to Valle de Angeles to do our tourist shopping. They had less than 2 hours to get that done, and to possibly purchase an ice cream cone. It’s not a very big shopping area by our standards, so we pretty much could see each other practically the whole shopping time. Miracle of miracles, Pat’s group, which is traditionally the last one back, was on time today. Our time-keeper Juan brought in the late group.

We returned to our compound shortly after 5. It seems empty here without all the students running around, but believe me, they’ll return in force tomorrow morning.

With only two days to go, and many loose ends to tie up, we are breaking into several smaller groups. One crew will head to the houses to finish specific details. Another crew will work on bunks and tables. We’ll take our final gift bags into the homes. We need to fit dresses and girls, and Shoes That Grow to the students on Prof. Jessica’s list. We also plan to pass out candy in the classrooms, headbands, and some rosaries. Don’t worry! We still have things to do on Tuesday.

It’s going to be an emotional ending to this trip. We are already seeing signs of that tonight. Keep prayers coming our way! Looking forward to seeing our Welcome Home on Wednesday night in Omaha.

Message from Chris: Hey Family, I am glad to hear that everything went well with Queen Emma’s birthday. Sounded like a lot of fun. By the way, we had cake and ice cream too. Sounds like the dog needed a pretty expensive towel (buckskin) recently. Hope that was a joke, but if not, I will still return to the U.S. Hope to hear from you again.  Love, Chris

The girls pose before a majestic view

James, Mason, Daniel enjoy the oasis

Dave, Carlyn, Mason, Jordan, Nancy - birthday celebrants

Original church built for Suyapa

The statue of Suyapa, believed to grant miracles for those who pray to her

Celebrating Mass in the Basilica de Suyapa

Father greets the children at the sign of peace

Missioners at church

Caden receives Communion

Attacking the pinata

Grabbing money and candy